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Two thoughts prevail in this psalm the kingly dominion of Jehovah and the holiness of his worship; to which we may add a third, that Zion is the place where his majesty and grace are displayed, and, by inference, where men should bring their offerings and worship. The most natural divisions would resolve the psalm into three parts: The first part (Psalms 99:1-3) proclaims Jehovah’s reign, his absolute sovereignty and holiness, and calls upon the people to fear and do homage; the second, (Psalms 99:4-5,) asserts the unity of the theocratic king of Israel with the government purposes of Jehovah, and again calls upon the people to worship this holy God, and, by implication, to acknowledge his representative in the Hebrew monarch; the third strophe (Psalms 99:6-9) declares how, before the Hebrew monarchy, God had representatives whom he raised up to execute his will, such as Moses, Aaron, and Samuel, whose official acts he sanctioned, though he, from time to time, punished the people for their evil devices, and again calls upon the people to worship this holy and jealous God “at his holy hill,” Zion. This also would be a recognition of the great act of David’s reign in fixing the religious and political centre of the kingdom at that place, (see on Psalms 78:0,) as well as of the great doctrine that the unity of the nation implied unity and conformity in worship. Such we consider to be the teaching of this brief and beautiful lyric; and although this is not a point to dogmatize where revelation is not direct and authoritative, yet there is no reason to decline, but much to corroborate, the opinion that it was used by the Levitical choristers at the dedication of Solomon’s temple. It might have been written for a former occasion by David the Septuagint, Syriac, and Vulgate ascribe it to David and adopted for this by Solomon, or written by some Seer or Levite for this latter purpose. The former hypothesis is the more probable.
1. The Lord reigneth A public proclamation, (see on Psalms 93:1; Psalms 97:1,) for all the nations to hear.
Let the people tremble Or, the nations shall tremble. The future tense of the verb makes it prophetic. It is spoken of the hostile nations who hated, and meditated evil of, the Hebrew people and religion. These shall quake through fear when they learn that Jehovah is the true king of Israel, and will defend them, and punish with destruction those who conspire against them. The allusion is to Exodus 15:14-16; Deuteronomy 2:25; Joshua 2:9-11.
He sitteth between the cherubim He not only reigns, but he is now sitting in his throne of judgment, with the swift executioners of his will the cherubim about him. See note on Psalms 80:1.
Let the earth be moved The earth shall be moved. This clearly determines that the address is to all the nations.
2. Great in Zion Here is the seat of his power, which it is necessary for the nations to know, because it assures them that Israel is his people, and none but the true Israel will God defend; while to Israel it settles the great question whether Shiloh or Zion is the place for the national worship. See on Psalms 78:0. But above this historic intimation, we must understand the spiritual Zion here, the Church. The greatness of God “in Zion” is the greatness of his acts of redemption by his word, his Spirit, his providences, through and for his Church.
3. Let them praise They shall praise; that is, the nations, or peoples, just mentioned. Psalms 99:2. The prophetic character of the psalm and the form of the verb require that it be rendered in the declarative future.
Terrible name “Terrible” only to his enemies, whom he will “break with a rod of iron,” (Psalms 2:9,) and who, in conspiring against God’s people, “have played the madmen to their own destruction.” Calvin. No less terrible is God against cherished sins in his own people. See Deuteronomy 10:17.
For it is holy A solemn declaration, thrice made once at the end of each strophe, (Psalms 99:5; Psalms 99:9,) which strongly suggests that the occasion of this psalm was one which related to the public worship, and of solemn but joyful recognition and renewal of the national covenant with God.
4. The king’s strength also loveth judgment “The meaning seems to be, that God’s power is controlled in its exercise by his love of justice.” Alexander. But who is the “king?” The most natural construction would refer it to David, (or Solomon,) whose administration is regarded as the type and expression of the true theocracy. The language conforms to the description given of David’s reign, (2 Samuel 8:15,) “And David reigned over all Israel; and David executed judgment and justice unto all his people.” Also David’s charge to Solomon, (2 Samuel 23:3,) “He that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God.” The next sentence is an address to Jehovah:
Thou dost establish equity That is, a government thus conformed to thine, and of thine appointment, thou wilt render firm and effective against all hostility.
In Jacob An enlargement of “in Zion,” (Psalms 99:2,) but prophetically the true Church. And so, from the ground idea found in the history of David’s throne, above given, we must advance to the conception of Messiah’s kingdom. The verbs in the last clause are in the preterit, but equally apply to the future kingdom of Messiah, because they affirm what God has always done, and hence what is abstractly fit that he should always do.
5. For he is holy With this refrain close the three divisions. The first, (Psalms 99:3,) ascribes holiness to God’s name; the second, (Psalms 99:5,) ascribes the same to his abode; the third, (Psalms 99:9,) to his nature. Some, as Tholuck, regard these verses as a chorus, sung by a second, or responsive, choir.
6. Moses and Aaron… Samuel Three leading representatives of the old dispensation.
Among his priests Not the only ones, but the most illustrious specimens of the class, as the preposition among, or with, denotes. The word כהן , ( kohehn,) priest, seems here to be used in a broader sense than usual, to denote a prince, or chief. In 2 Samuel 8:18 the word means chief ruler, prince; and in 1 Chronicles 18:17, it is explained by substituting another word, which also means first, or chief, minister. The same use of the word is seen in 2 Samuel 20:26, and elsewhere. Moses and Samuel, though of supreme civil dignity, were of the Levitical order, as well as Aaron, and on different occasions performed the functions of the priesthood in mediation, sacrifice, and purification of the people. See Exodus 17:15; Exodus 24:7-8; Lev 8:15-30 ; 1 Samuel 9:13; 1 Samuel 16:2-5. Their history is here cited to encourage prayer and trust in God, who, through these same means, would now, as of old, work salvation for his people. Particularly is this recital made to encourage faith in their leaders as God’s representatives.
7. He spake unto them in the cloudy pillar That is, unto Moses and Aaron, and through them to the people, as Exodus 19:9; Numbers 12:5; and to Samuel, 1Sa 3:10 ; 1 Samuel 7:9-10.
They kept his testimonies Beautiful is this pious example of these heads and leaders of the nation.
8. Thou answeredst them That is, Moses, Aaron, and Samuel.
Forgavest them The people.
Their inventions The pronoun again refers to the people. “Inventions” means works, doings, and here evil doings. Thus, forgiveness and vengeance, mercy and judgment, tempered the divine discipline. 2 Samuel 7:14. “God punished their transgressions, but his method was lenient; he had not removed his favour from them, but forgave them for their intercessor’s sake.” Tholuck.
9. Exalt the Lord our God A repetition of Psalms 99:5, with the change of holy hill, here, for footstool there, and “the Lord our God,” for the pronoun he indicating a rising emphasis.
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Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Psalms 99". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Fourth Week after Epiphany